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Friday, May 17, 2013

Donation boxes increasingly under fire

Someone left a couple of sofas next to a Planet Aid donation box by the Annandale Kmart parking lot.

As communities like Annandale are increasingly becoming inundated with donation boxes, efforts are under way to fight back.  

At the request of Mason Supervisor Penny Gross, the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning is exploring options for tightening the restrictions on the boxes or banning them outright. It’s a nationwide problem. In recent weeks, local governments in Lincoln, Neb., Schaumburg, Ill., amd Simi Valley, Calif., have taken steps to ban donation boxes.

Among the complaints: Some of the boxes are poorly maintained, and trash often accumulates around them. And while recycling is better than dumping unused goods in landfills, some of the boxes are deceptively labeled to give the impression that they support charities when, in fact, they are actually operated by for profit companies that sell the donated items to textile recycling companies. 

The textile recycling trade is profitable, and thus growing and increasingly competitive. A source within the industry describes incidents of companies raiding the bins of competitors and stealing or putting trash in competitors’ bins.

Goodwill of Greater Washington, which recently opened a store in Annandale, views the donation boxes as “our biggest threat” to collecting second-hand clothes for its retail outlets, said spokesperson Brendan Hurley. 

As a result, Goodwill launched a campaign in partnership with Applebee’s to encourage people to donate unneeded items to Goodwill, rather than in some random box. The organization is inviting schoolchildren to design artwork to wrap around bins that will be installed in the parking lots at Applebee’s restaurants.

The “Goodwill Kids’ Bins” program is being piloted with Bucknell Elementary School in Fairfax County, and the first bin will be unveiled May 18 at the Applebee’s at 6310 Richmond Highway in Alexandria. 

A mock-up of a Goodwill donation box wrap designed by kids.
The goal is to replicate the campaign by placing student-designed Goodwill bins in every Applebee’s restaurant throughout the region,” said Hurley. Eventually, “Goodwill would like to have all of its donation bins custom-designed by area students, making them unique while building a sense of community spirit and pride.”

Goodwill also sells donated items it can’t sell in its stores to textile recyclers. “The primary difference between us and the for-profit corporations is that the revenue we generate off of those sales goes directly towards funding our mission, not into the pockets of for-profit corporations that don’t provide any charitable support,” Hurley says. 


  1. Planet Aid at least posts their IRS 990 form right on their website. You cannot find Goodwills on theirs. Also, see a Huffington Post Article on Goodwill dated September 25, 2012. Thousands of workers are paid below minimum wage, while the CEOs make hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even the stores themselves do not serve the lower income well, for you don't find higher quality items there -- and you know there is always a mix of quality being donated, so there is obviously some sorting being done.

  2. The comment by Anonymous is completely inaccurate. Goodwill of Greater Washington not only posts the organization's 990 on its website (, but also its annual report and audited financial report.

    Additionally, Goodwill of Greater Washington pays all of its employees above both federal and local minimum wage standards; something that many private corporations can't claim.

    Anyone wishing to seek more information on Goodwill of Greater Washington can visit its website,

    Brendan Hurley
    Goodwill of Greater Washington